Water safety during the dog days of summer

Published July 13, 2017
Boat heads for safe harbor with waterspout on Lake Okeechobee visible from Port Mayaca.

Boat heads for safe harbor with waterspout on Lake Okeechobee visible from Port Mayaca.

Even experienced boaters should expect the unexpected and always wear a life jacket. Check the forecast before you head out, monitor weather conditions closely and head for safety if conditions change. (Photo by Mark Bias)

Even experienced boaters should expect the unexpected and always wear a life jacket. Check the forecast before you head out, monitor weather conditions closely and head for safety if conditions change. (Photo by Mark Bias)

“Increased water safety awareness can help ensure that you and your loved ones have fun this summer and return home safely,” said Nelson Colón, natural resource program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is one of the nation’s leading federal providers of outdoor recreation, with more than 400 lake and river projects in 43 states. Visitor safety at Corps parks and recreation areas is our highest priority.”

“Our park rangers, volunteers and partners continuously promote water and boater safety and education. This summer, we’re sharing additional water safety tips, such as the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Boaters and swimmers should also be aware of weather conditions. In Florida, the weather can change in the blink of an eye.”

“We encourage boaters to be weather-aware year round, but it’s especially important during the summer months, when the weather can turn severe quickly. Boaters should ‘know before they go’ by checking the forecast and head for safety immediately if conditions change,” said Tammy Cleveland, lead park ranger at the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston. “Did you know that lightning can strike ten to fifteen miles from the center of a thunderstorm where it is raining? If you see a towering storm in the distance and hear thunder, then you are close enough to be struck and should seek shelter indoors immediately.”

“In addition to checking the forecast, boaters should always make a float plan, and leave it with someone responsible,” said Colón. “A float plan is like a flight plan, and includes key information about your trip, such as where you are launching, who is with you, where you are going, stops you plan to make, when you will return, and when to call if you haven’t returned by a certain time.”

“During the dog days of summer, it’s especially important for both you and your pets to drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Never leave infants, children or pets in the car, even briefly. Even in moderate weather, the temperature inside a closed vehicle can quickly reach dangerous levels,” said Carol Bernstein, chief of the Corps’ Operations Division. “If you are working or recreating outdoors, watch out for the symptoms of confusion, agitation, disorientation, the absence of sweating and coma. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated.”

More public recreation fatalities occur in July than any other month, so the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asks you to play it safe while on, in, or near the water, because drowning is a leading cause of death this time of year. Corps public recreation fatality statistics show that 88 percent were male, 89 percent were not wearing a life jacket, and 47 percent were swimming in areas not designated as a swimming area.

“Most people who drown never had any intention of being in the water, so we encourage everyone to expect the unexpected and always wear a life jacket when in, on or near the water. If you visit our St. Lucie, Ortona or W.P. Franklin recreation areas, please don't hesitate to speak with one of our park rangers if you have any questions,” said Cleveland. “Remember that we have free loaner life jackets available on a first come, first served basis at our recreation areas to ensure you have a safe visit while boating or just swimming.”

Most people who drown would have survived if they had worn a life jacket. Life jackets come in many styles, sizes and colors. Choose the right one that fits you properly, and make sure to wear it correctly. Don’t forget to buckle or zip it up. There is a life jacket for every kind of water activity, including swimming. One of the most comfortable life jackets for adult swimmers is a manual belt-type inflatable life jacket. If you wear an inflatable life jacket of any kind, make sure you know how it works, how to inflate it, how to inspect it before every use, how to rearm the CO2 cartridge, and repack it properly.

While on or near the water, watch out for each other at all times. It only takes 20 seconds for a child to drown and 60 seconds for an adult to drown. It is a misconception that if someone is drowning, they will yell for help. Several people drown every year within 10 feet of safety because the people around them were not paying attention and did not recognize the signs of drowning. The signs of drowning can resemble someone just playing in the water. The signs include head back, mouth open gasping for air, no yelling or sound, and arms slapping the water like they are trying to climb out of the water. Properly rescuing someone should never include contact with them unless you are a trained lifeguard. Reach out to the victim with something like a swim noodle or an oar to keep your distance, or throw them something that floats to pull them to safety.

Boaters or those swimming near boats should be aware that carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible, and silent killer, and another reason that wearing a life jacket is so important. Carbon monoxide can accumulate anywhere in or around your boat regardless of what type of boat you have. It is heavier than air and lighter than water, so it floats on the water’s surface. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include eye irritation, headache, nausea, weakness, and dizziness. One breath of carbon monoxide at the water’s surface can cause you to pass out and drown. Avoid areas where exhaust fumes may be present. Do not let anyone swim under or around the boarding platform because this silent killer could be waiting for them.

Here are some additional tips to help you have a safe and enjoyable time this summer. Swimming in open water is different and more difficult than in a swimming pool. You can tire more quickly and get into trouble due to waves, current, lack of experience, exhaustion, or if your ability to swim as long as you used to have decreased. You could find yourself in a situation where you are fighting for your life. Even the best swimmers can misjudge their skills and abilities while swimming in a lake or river. Conditions can change quickly in open water, so before entering the water, please wear a life jacket. If you wear a life jacket, you will not use as much energy, it will help you float, and most importantly, it will be there when and if you ever really need it.

Every year, several people lose their lives because they were encouraged to do something, such as swim across a lake, cove or pond, out to the nearest buoy, to retrieve a beach ball or something else that floated away, or to try some other activity, like jumping off a cliff or bridge. Your actions can have deadly consequences, so you should never encourage anyone to do these types of activities. Friends should do things like swim in designated areas and encourage each other to wear a life jacket.

Avoid prolonged breath-holding activities and games while swimming or in the water because it can lead to shallow water blackout. Shallow water blackout results from low oxygen to the brain. A person basically “blacks out” or faints in the water. Shallow water blackout can affect anyone who is breath-holding, even physically fit swimmers. Competitive swimmers, snorkelers, or anyone that free-dives is especially at risk. It can also occur when children or people of any age play games to see how long they can hold their breath underwater, or to someone who does not know how to breathe properly when swimming.

Always remember to wear a life jacket because it could save your life or the life of someone you love. Life Jackets Worn…Nobody Mourns. Learn more at www.PleaseWearIt.com.

Photo Captions: 

Weather conditions in Florida can change quickly, especially during the heat of summer. Check the forecast before you head out, be weather-aware while out on the water, and head for safety immediately if conditions change. Dangerous conditions, such as this waterspout spotted on Lake Okeechobee, are always a possibility with fast-moving summer storms. (Photo by Port Mayaca lock and dam operator Bill Keeney)
Even experienced boaters should expect the unexpected and always wear a life jacket. Check the forecast before you head out, monitor weather conditions closely and head for safety if conditions change. (Photo by Mark Bias)

Tags: water safety, safety, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, life jacket, carbon monoxide, swimming, summer, boating

Erica Skolte
561-801-5734 (cell)

Release no. 17-028